Medicare Rebate Freeze
The Medicare Rebate freeze was put in place in 2013 by the Labor Government of the time as a way to save tax payers $644 million dollars. The current Prime Minister and Health Minister have publicly stated that lifting the Medicare freeze would be considered in the lead up to the coming May Budget. Liberal National Party (LNP) politicians are understandably concerned that their Government is being perceived as being anti-Medicare, a sentiment that could be politically fatal for them at the next election.
According to a recent ABC News article; “New Health Minister Greg Hunt seems keen to strike a deal with Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) to remove a key irritant in the Government's relationship with the powerful doctor's lobby.” This article fails to mention whether the lifting of the rebate freeze will also apply to the Better Access to Mental Health Care initiative, which provides a Medicare rebate for mental health services.
The Better Access to Mental Health Care initiative was introduced in 2006 to help people with a diagnosed mental health condition receive Medicare subsidised treatment. Initially, those suffering with a mental health condition could receive Medicare rebates for up to 12 sessions per calendar year, with the option of extending this to 18 sessions if chronic symptoms and/or complex needs were present. In 2013, the amount of sessions allowed was cut to only 10 sessions per calendar year with no option of extension. This equates to roughly one session with a Psychologist every six weeks. For those with complex mental health conditions this is simply inadequate.
Mental illness can be just as seriously debilitating as any physical illness. All you need to do is look at the statistics for the suicide rate in Australia. In its Causes of Death report released in September 2016 the ABS said; "Suicide was the leading cause of death among all people 15-44 years of age, and the second leading cause of death among those 45-54 years of age." There are also many other serious social and economic consequences related to mental illness such as an increased risk of family breakdown, unemployment and homelessness.
If universal health care is still a priority for our politicians then adequate mental health care needs to be an integral part of Australia’s health system. The Better Access to Mental Health Care initiative allows many people to access psychological services who may otherwise not be able to afford professional help. It is highly efficient in that the money invested by the government is paid directly to patients and is not wasted on needless administration.
If a lift of the Medicare rebate freeze is indeed on the government’s agenda then it makes logical sense to include rebates for mental health services. This would not only benefit those living with mental illness, it would also show the Australian public that their government values both their physical and mental wellbeing.